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Nchama, Cruz Melchor Eya

Prominent Refugees, 6 January 1945

Eya Nchama

Eya Nchama

As a university student, Eya Nchama traced the history of an African slave who became a professor in Spain, and this interest in history and human rights has shaped his career.

As a boy growing up in Equatorial Guinea, he attended a mission primary school and went to high school in Santa Isabel in 1960. His lifelong struggle for the promotion of human rights began at the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain. He chose for his dissertation topic a curious 16th-century character known as Juan Latino, who was brought to Europe to serve another young boy. The child slave, Juan, is said to have educated himself by reading the books he had to carry to school for his master. Latino caught up fast, earned his nickname because of his linguistic ability, and became a renowned professor at the University of Granada.

Nchama originally left his country to study. But when he returned, he found that the independence struggle had led to a dictatorship. He decided to leave again. "I could not teach that Equatorial Guinea was created by God thanks to Marcias Nguema," he said of the then President. Back in Spain, Nchama began to campaign for human rights in his home country. The Spanish secret services soon approached him and asked him to stop denouncing his government.

Nchama moved to Switzerland, where he studied child development under eminent child psychologist Jean Piaget and with Spanish psychiatrist Julien de Ajurriaguera, then director of the Geneva Psychiatric Clinic.

In November 1974, he asked that his passport be renewed. The authorities of Equatorial Guinea refused, and Switzerland granted him refugee status.

In 1979, the UN Human Rights Commission recognised the continuing human rights violations in Equatorial Guinea and appointed a Special Rapporteur. But Nchama's battle did not end there. He went on to represent various non-governmental organisations including the Mouvement International pour l'Union Fraternelle entre les Races et les Peuples (International Movement for Fraternal Union Among Races and Peoples.

Nchama was one of the first campaigners to bring to light the plight of women suffering from female genital mutilation and lobbied for the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, based in Geneva. He was also the president of the Anti-Racist Information Service. In 1993, he served as Special Counsellor for NGOs (non-governmental organisations) of the Secretary-General at the UN World Human Rights Conference in Vienna.

From 1982 to 1996, he headed a research team on African history at Switzerland's Institut Universitaire d'Etudes du Développement. He has also co-authored many books concerning refugee issues and development in Africa. He is currently employed by the Geneva government, working for the Council of State and advising NGOs coming to Geneva.




UNHCR country pages

2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the Colombian women's rights group, Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future, with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday night.

The volunteer members of Butterflies risk their lives each day to help survivors of forced displacement and sexual abuse in the Pacific Coast city of Buenaventura. This city has some of the highest rates of violence and displacement due to escalating rivalries between illegal armed groups.

Drawing on only the most modest of resources, volunteers cautiously move through the most dangerous neighbourhoods to help women access medical care and report crimes. This work, deep inside the communities, helps them reach the most vulnerable women, but also brings with it danger and threats from the illegal armed groups.

The Award ceremony, in its 60th year, was held in Geneva's Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, and featured musical performances by UNHCR supporters, Swedish-Lebanese singer-songwriter Maher Zain and Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré. The Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela also performed at the ceremony.

2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award at a gala ceremony in Geneva on Monday night.

Sister Angélique, through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, has helped transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who had been forced from their homes and abused by fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) or other armed groups. Many of those she helps suffered abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape or other human rights abuses.

The Roman Catholic nun helps survivors to heal by offering them the chance to learn a trade, start a small business or go to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable effect she has had on helping turn around their lives, with many affectionately calling her "mother."

The Award ceremony featured a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

More than 400 people attended the annual presentation in Geneva in October 1, 2012 of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award. This year's inspirational winner from Somalia, Hawa Aden Mohamed, was unable to attend for health reasons, but she sent a video message. In the former refugee's absence, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the award and Nansen medal to her sister, Shukri Aden Mohamed.

The 63-year-old humanitarian, educator and women's rights advocate, widely known as "Mama" Hawa, was honoured for her extraordinary service - under extremely difficult conditions - on behalf of refugees and the internally displaced, mainly women and girls but also including boys.

Above all she has been recognized for her work - as founder and director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development in Somalia's Puntland region - in helping to empower thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, many of whom are victims of rape. The centre provides secondary education as well as life skills training.

The packed event also included an address by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, and a video tribute to Mama Hawa as well as performances from UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador and classical singer, Barbara Hendricks, and up and coming Swiss musician Bastian Baker.

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

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